Guest Article: Escape from slavery in Dubai.

Junaid Ansari, is a 50-year-old father from Uttar Pradesh, India. Like many, he was a carpet weaver in his village, trying to provide for his family. But the meager income was not enough for. Junaid, like millions of others, he was forced to look abroad for work.

In December 2021, a local agent promised him a job as a house helper in Dubai. He was promised a monthly wage of 1400 Dirhams ($380.00 USD), food, accommodations, and kind employers. But the reality was a far cry from this. Instead of a comfortable home, Junaid was sent to a perfume factory where he was forced to work for 12 hours each day under abusive conditions.

Sadly, Junaid’s story is far too common. West India is one of the largest migration corridors globally, with an estimated 9 million Indian migrants working in the Persian Gulf region. While some find fair employment, countless others fall victim to hazardous labor conditions, exploitation, and labor trafficking, with no safety net, social security, or labor rights.

Junaid bravely shared, "The only reason why I was able to pressure the agent to arrange my journey back to India was the knowledge I gained from the Free the Slaves events..." 

Since December of 2020, Free the Slaves and MSEMVS have been at the forefront of protecting migrant workers in India through our “Safe Migration to the Gulf Countries” initiative. We’ve created a safe migration handbook, conducted trainings, and built an awareness network to ensure people migrating to Gulf countries stay safe and remain free. 

Through our initiative, we have reached over 7,000 individuals. To ensure our work is sustainable we have trained village heads to take on the responsibility of spreading awareness, while the volunteer community groups maintain migration registration systems, track cases, and keep their communities informed.

The second phase of this project is active now, focusing on eliminating unlawful and excessive recruitment fees levied by recruiting brokers. We aim to educate migrant workers and recruiters alike about these abuses and how they can prevent them.

Source: Free The Slaves

September in brief.

Above: Counter Human Trafficking-East Africa represented by Mr Mutuku Nguli, (seated second right at front row during a group photo) on 22nd September 2023 while attending a reflection workshop on Climate Change and Peacebuilding. It was held at a Nairobi hotel

Above: Ms. Mary Mugo (a member of the Religious Against Human Trafficking), in a hearty laugh after meeting Pope Francis mid-September while attending a Talitha Kum meeting in Rome

Above: A team from Tanzania posing for a group photo after finalizing a 2 days’ training which was held at the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Faraja Centre, Tanzania. The training was conducted by Mr Ahmed Mwidad from the Government Secretariat of Anti Human Trafficking under the ministry of Home Affairs. The Faraja Center-human trafficking programme was initiated by CHTEA in 2018 and has been used as a model in Tanzania.

Survivor story: Annette*

Annette is a mother of 3, separated with her two previous husbands. She is an Information Technology graduate and was working in clearing and forwarding sector at the Mombasa port. She met a recruitment agent while in Mombasa in the course of her work, after separating with her second husband in 2010. Before relocating to Mombasa, Annette had been living with her mother in Nyeri where life had become quite challenging since she had no job and yet she had a family to feed.

She recalls that the recruitment agent had promised her a lucrative opportunity in Qatar. In December 2010, Annette she was asked to go for a medical examination (chest and pregnancy). On arrival at the designated medical facility, she only did the pregnancy test and was asked not to worry about the chest X-ray. The agent told her that the results had already been sent to her would-be employer and that in any case, she looked healthy, according to him. The following day, her travel documents were sent to her on email and she was asked to meet the agent at the KENCOM bus stage ready to proceed to the airport. To her shock, when she arrived at KENCOM stage, she met other six women yet she had all along believed that she was the only one. On arrival at JKIA, the seven they were all given brown envelopes and off they disappeared to the back end of the waiting lounge.

It was only when Annette opened her envelope (inside the waiting lounge) that she got to know that she wasn’t going to Qatar anymore but to Lebanon with one other from the group while the rest were destined for Saudi Arabia.

The group had a stop-over at Dubai where they connected their flight to Beirut. While at the waiting area in Dubai, Annette says, “I met other Kenyan women at the Dubai international airport who were enroute back to Nairobi from Lebanon. They looked worn out and emaciated. Seeing them like that, it gave me jitters, it made her scared.”  Later on, they flew to Beirut where they would meet their sponsors and would-be employers. They picked her up even as she kept asking where she was being taken to without a response. The sponsor eventually got annoyed and beat and locked her up in a room. She was later picked up and taken to the agent’s office in Lebanon. While at the office, her employer explained to her that he had paid a 2000USD to bring her to Lebanon to work as a house help at her sister’s house. Annette had no option but to agree to work for a salary of 200USD per month.

At her first house, the family couldn’t understand her due to language barrier which resulted to Annette getting physically assaulted by the lady of the house. Annette later learnt Arabic but things didn’t change hence, she asked to be taken back to the agent. The employer obliged and took her back at the agent’s office where she demanded to be taken back to Kenya but was told to pay the 2000USD for buying price. She stayed at the office for 3 months before getting her second employer. Her stint at the first house was rewarding since she got paid for all months worked. She was able to send some money back home to her mother.

While at the office Janet was denied food, locked up in the office alongside another Kenyan lady. She was eventually taken to a 2nd house. The house had an old couple who suffered from chronic illnesses. The boss at the second house was very arrogant towards her. He didn’t even tell her what her salary was to be. He told her that she didn’t have the mandate to ask how much she would be paid. Annette was badly mistreated (physically assaulted, denied food and worked for long hours). She worked here for 6 months, and tried to escape but was arrested and taken back. She reluctantly continued working as she plotted another escape. Through the help of an Egyptian mechanic, she was able to escape. The Egyptian man helped her get a temporary place to stay where she also got an opportunity to start working at a hotel as an illegal migrant, since she did not have her travel documents. She worked at the hotel for few a months before she was stopped on the claim an impending crackdown on illegal migrant workers. The job loss forced Annette to rely on part time jobs. She volunteered to work for the Kenyan consulate at Beirut at no pay hoping to meet the consular and plead for her freedom back home.

While volunteering at the Kenyan consulate, Annette was able to resolve cases and helped fellow Kenyan migrants and the Consulate as well. She was able to hold forums for the migrant workers to air out their challenges and help each other know how to navigate them. One of the many cases Janet was able to support was concerning the death of one Kenyan migrant worker who lost her life under unclear circumstances. She was able to investigate and found out that she had lost her life due to loss of blood following a procured abortion. It is through this case that Annette got an opportunity to meet the consulate who helped her get back to Kenya through deportation.

On arrival back in Kenya, Annette met her family members but she was heart-broken when she saw the condition of her son who looked unkempt and under fed. She even realized that the son was no longer going to school due to lack of school fees.

Annette got depressed and got into drugs and alcohol. She cut all contact with her mother and family. She recently reunited with her family but still struggles with where to start from. She now has two young kids. Her mother still resents her and she feels she like she is the cause of all her troubles. Annette has never received psychosocial support, yet she is in dire need of an IGA to support her family and her kids in high school.

Annette* - not her real name


Tips for promoting online safety for kids in schools.

Tips for Promoting Online Safety for kids in Schools.

Schools are under-way through third term in most East African countries, and soon, students will begin their end term/year national examinations.  In between the opening and closing, students will be accessing the internet for educational content and revision purposes. It is therefore important to understand how schools can ensure the students online safety while online.

Access to the internet opens doors to information that our children could not otherwise access in the analogue world. The internet provides access to educational content, including study notes and curriculum content. Further, a child has access to information such as the environment, wildlife, society and more. There are also a lot of entertainment videos for the children, including cartoons. All these contents will help a child grow being aware of his or her environment and the society. However, the internet is also home to other types of content including movies and TV shows, betting and casino, music, games, adult content, and more.

In other words, whereas the internet can open a world of possibilities for our children, without proper supervision and control, it can expose the young ones to dangers. In addition to websites, social media has fast gained traction among teenagers and young adults. The social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok provides an environment where children interact with other people, not only those known to them, but also strangers.

Dangers of the internet for Children

There are a wide of range of dangers that children are likely to face online, according to a cyber security company, Kaspersky. The top online threats for children are:

1) Cyberbullying - Globally, about 11.5% of children have been bullied online. Cyberbullying is an aggressive, threatening or intimidating activity conducted via electronic communication including email, social media posts and messages, SMSs, and more. In most cases, children are reluctant to admit that they are victims of cyberbullying.

2) Online predators - Children and adults share the same online space, more so in social media and game chatrooms. Online predators are adults who use the internet to entice children for sexual exploitation or other activities, including luring them with the intent to kidnap.

3) Exposure to inappropriate content - Inappropriate content includes sexually explicit content, violent and graphic content, age-inappropriate content, and downloading of pirated materials, including music and videos.

Ways in which schools may create safe learning environments.

Beyond the responsibility of schools to create safe environments on their physical property, they also have a responsibility to create safe online-learning environments. Supervision of children while using the devices alone is not enough, Schools must recognize, prioritize, and minimize students’ potential exposure to predators, inappropriate, and—sadly—other students causing harm by implementing best practices for online safety:

  1. Safeguard on school-issued devices and platforms- School administration must take necessary precautions to ensure school-distributed electronic devices are not exposing children to harmful material. School to turn on parental control before giving devices to children
  2. Education for parents – As a school administration at the very least, be very clear with parents and guardians what platforms and websites their kids will be using, provide them their children’s passwords, and direct them to resources they can use to have age-appropriate conversations with their kids at home about body safety, harms of adult content and digital citizenship among others.
  3. Teacher training- We’ve been hearing of teachers using social media platforms to engage students, when those platforms are known to be pedophile hunting grounds and rampant with child sex abuse material. As school administration ensure Teachers and educators are clear about protocols and procedures when a student is exposed to or even sharing pornography while completing school assignments, on the playground, or school bus and they have the support and training necessary to deal with these potential harms. Digital Safety should be required for all school personnel—and there are many fantastic resources school administrations can use and tailor for their community.
  4. Youth empowerment- In our increasingly tech-reliant education system, lessons around these issues should be required, prioritized, and ongoing. At a minimum, students should be well aware of school policies and expectations around devices (school-issued and personal) and Internet usage. Sooner, not later, is when students should be taught in age-appropriate ways about body safety, recognizing predatory behavior (in person and online), understanding the harms of pornography, and what to do if they’re exposed to it, being clear on the socio-emotional risks of “sexting”: sending sexually explicit photos of themselves, as well as the potential consequences-including criminal liability - of taking and/or sharing sexually explicit material or using it to bully, shame, or threaten someone (i.e. “revenge porn”), and most importantly what to do if they feel uncomfortable or threatened.